Definition and Characteristics of Schizophrenia

Symptoms, Treatments and Risk Factors

Schizophrenia Definition
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Schizophrenia is a severe, lifelong mental disorder characterized by delusions, hallucinations, incoherence and physical agitation. It is classified as a thought disorder, while bipolar disorder is a mood disorder.

Incidence and Risk Factors for Schizophrenia

It is estimated that 1 percent of the world's population has schizophrenia. While there is evidence that genetic factors have a role in developing schizophrenia, environment may play a significant part as well.

The Difference Between Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia

While bipolar I disorder may include psychotic features similar to those found in schizophrenia during manic or depressive episodes, and bipolar II disorder during depressive episodes, schizophrenia does not include mood swings. Schizoaffective disorder is in between bipolar disorder and schizophrenia with some characteristics of both.

Diagnosing Schizophrenia

Part of the diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5 (DSM-5) states that schizoaffective disorder, depression, and bipolar disorder with psychotic features have all been ruled out, as has substance abuse, medication or another physical condition. 

Symptoms of Schizophrenia

According to DSM-5, in order to be diagnosed with schizophrenia, you must have at least two symptoms for the majority of the time during a one-month time frame and the symptoms must have been causing negative effects in your life over a six-month time frame.

The symptoms of schizophrenia include:

  • Delusions. These are false beliefs that you sincerely believe to be true. For example, you might believe someone is trying to hurt you or that you have been chosen for a top-secret mission.
  • Hallucinations. These involve things that don't exist and can affect any of the five senses (hearing, smelling, tasting, seeing and touching), but most typically involve hearing voices if you have schizophrenia. 
  • Confused speech due to confused thinking. This occurs when your thinking becomes impaired and you have difficulty speaking or answering questions. 
  • Excessively disorganized or abnormal motor behavior. This can range from acting silly to becoming extremely agitated to resorting to strange postures or movements.
  • Catatonia. This can range from being unresponsive to strange, hyper behavior.
  • Negative symptoms. This means that you either can't function properly or you can't function as well as normal. You may stop making gestures or facial expressions. Your speech may become flat and unemotional and eye contact may become difficult. You may also stop performing basic hygiene, not talk as much, and/or withdraw from the normal activities that you participate in and enjoy.

One of the above symptoms must be delusions, hallucinations or confused speech to be qualified as schizophrenia.

Treatments for Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a lifelong condition and will require continual treatment consisting of medications and psycho and social therapy.

Antipsychotics are the most common medication used to treat schizophrenia. The first generation of antipsychotics, called typical antipsychotics, include medications like: 

Atypical antipsychotics are the newer generation and include medications like:

  • Abilify (aripiprazole)
  • Zyprexa (olanzapine)
  • Fanapt (iloperidone)
  • Invega (paliperidone)
  • Seroquel (quetiapine)
  • Risperdal (risperidone)
  • Geodon (ziprasidone). 

Psycho and social therapy treatments commonly used for schizophrenia include individual therapy, family therapy, social skills training and vocational rehabilitation to help you find and keep a job.


"Schizophrenia." Mayo Clinic (2014).

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